Redbridge Council leader accuses government of “dumping” rough sleepers in Ilford

Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal has accused the government of “dumping” rough sleepers from across London in Ilford’s hotels during the pandemic.

Speaking following the launch of a new Met team for Ilford town centre, Cllr Athwal said he wants to “stamp down” on crime in the borough.

His comments came as a man in his 30s was hospitalised at 8am on Sunday morning during a fight on Cranbrook Road, Ilford, shared on social media.

According to Cllr Athwal, some of the town centre’s current crime and anti-social behaviour problems stem from the government moving vulnerable people to the borough without consulting the council.

He said: “During the pandemic the hotels in Ilford didn’t do too much business, there was no tourism and unknown to us the government quickly started filling up hotels.

“We weren’t asked or told, we were told some time later that they had commandeered hotels for rough sleepers from across London.

“It was like ‘hold on, when was someone going to tell us?’ We then found out the Home Office had commandeered a hotel for 90 families and the government didn’t tell us.

“Our social services had to go and carry out assessments – this is the government dumping people in places because they haven’t got a clue, if they talk to us we would have to have a say in that.”

Redbridge recently published figures showing it has housed 389 homeless people since the pandemic began under the Everyone In initiative, funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

The DLUHC has been approached for comment on how many people housed under the scheme were moved from elsewhere in the country but had not  responded at the time of publication.

The leader added that he “made the case” for the extra police in Ilford, which sees “the vast majority” of anti-social behaviour crimes in the borough.

The Met say the team will work “solely in busy public places and other areas” and plan to target areas where women and girls often feel unsafe.

Alongside the new police, the council has upgraded its CCTV systems and launched two fixed and one mobile “enforcement hubs,” where residents can talk about their concerns with police and council enforcement officers.

Cllr Athwal said Ilford is “on the threshold” of being revitalised, with the approaching opening of the Crossrail link to central London and Mercato Metropolitano.

Commenting on Sunday’s stabbing, he added: “There can’t be a cop on every corner, but those kind of things we have to stamp down on.

“We want to encourage our families and businesses to congregate and make sure the area is safe and welcoming for all residents.

“I didn’t become a politician until I was 45 and I had run three businesses. I’m a resident first and politician second.

“I want to leave Redbridge in a far, far better state than I found it. Judge me by my record, leisure centres, community hubs, green spaces, all those things are a huge advance.”

The Home Office wass also approached for comment on whether they consult Redbridge Council before moving people to the borough.

A spokesperson said they could not comment unless they knew whether Cllr Athwal was referring to Afghan refugees or asylum seekers.

When asked how many of both groups have been moved to the borough, the spokesperson said figures are only available if requested through the Freedom of Information Act, which has a one month waiting period for a response.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter